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Originally published Monday, September 15, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Steve Kelley

It feels like the beginning of the end of an era

The Seahawks expect to win these games. They always won these games — until Sunday. In this stranger-than-fiction beginning to the season, the Hawks' excuses are many.

Seattle Times staff columnist

Joe Nedney's redemptive field goal had just left his left foot when he raised his arms in victory.

After missing a 41-yard attempt at the end of regulation, Nedney's 40-yarder gave San Francisco a numbing 33-30 overtime win in the Seahawks' home opener.

"This is the end of the game," referee Jerome Boger announced to the silent crowd.

It felt even worse than that.

It felt like the beginning of the end of an era.

These are the kind of games these Seahawks always win. They beat up backup quarterbacks, like Troy Smith, Gus Frerotte, Trent Dilfer, J.T. O'Sullivan.

They ride the tidal waves of emotion from their fans. They get leads like Sunday's 14-0 first-quarter edge and they never give it back.

They beat the bad teams at home.

"I don't know what to say. I'm a little surprised, a little stunned, a little upset," said Matt Hasselbeck, who threw two interceptions and had a quarterback rating of 42.5.

These are the games that separate playoff teams from the vast midsection of mediocre teams.

The Seahawks expect to win these games. They always won these games — until Sunday.

In this stranger-than-fiction beginning to the season, the Hawks' excuses are many.


They lost two more receivers Sunday. Seneca Wallace, who figured seriously in this week's game plan, injured his calf in the pregame workout.

And Logan Payne, who started, injured his knee on his first reception and probably is lost for the season. That means they were missing six of their top seven wideouts.

But the Seahawks' problems go beyond the inexplicable spate of wideout wipeouts.

The best teams overcome all of this.

The New England Patriots are 2-0 without Tom Brady. The Seahawks made the playoffs two seasons ago, despite injuries to Hasselbeck, running back Shaun Alexander, receiver Bobby Engram and center Robbie Tobeck.

"Look, somehow we have to find a way to survive. Not just survive. Win," coach Mike Holmgren said.

Good teams, playoff teams, don't make the kinds of mistakes the Seahawks made while losing to a team as bad as San Francisco.

"Bad penalties, missed tackles, missed sack opportunities, too many turnovers," said Holmgren, who was more somber than he has ever been in his postgame news conference.

He could have added bad punting from newcomer Jon Ryan and bad kick coverage to his long list of things gone wrong.

This loss felt as bad as any in the lush Holmgren era, because this is how dynasties end. This is how teams that have been on a roll as long as the Seahawks finally grind to a halt.

Players get older. Injuries stack up like past due notices. Games the Seahawks never lost, they suddenly lose. The reality is, things probably aren't going to be the same here this season.

"Sometimes we were good. Sometimes we were terrible," linebacker Lofa Tatupu said.

Mostly, they were terrible.

It's only the second week of the season and the hapless St. Louis Rams are coming to town next Sunday, but the reality is, with a challenging schedule looming that includes three more trips to the East Coast, the Hawks have to go 9-5 just to make the playoffs.

Suddenly the task looks daunting. The wiggle room is gone.

And while the offense tries to put the pieces back together, the defense has to win games. The defense alone should have beaten the 49ers.

It should have harassed O'Sullivan into myriad mistakes. It should have forced turnovers. It should have gotten off the field on third downs and made stops in the fourth quarter and overtime.

It should have lived up to all the promises.

It didn't come close.

"We didn't get none of those big plays," strong safety Deon Grant said. "We didn't let people know what we stand for today. I don't care what kind of injuries the offense had. We don't give up big plays. We get off the field on third down. And get turnovers 24/7. That's what we stand for."

Instead, O'Sullivan threw for 321 yards. You name them — Marcus Trufant, Kelly Jennings, Josh Wilson — all the cornerbacks were victimized by O'Sullivan.

And in the game-winning, 57-yard overtime drive, the new 'Niners quarterback converted two third downs, including a 33-yard pass to the ageless Isaac Bruce.

"We've got a great defense, despite what we displayed out there. We'll get it turned around," Tatupu said bravely. "But it's got to happen soon because, you know, there's only 14 games left."

To paraphrase an infamous wordsmith: it is getting late earlier this season. The Hawks no longer can rely on the weakness of their division to get into the playoffs. Two weeks into the season, it already is show-me time in Seattle.

Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or More columns at

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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About Steve Kelley
Steve Kelley covers all sports, putting his spin on matters involving both the home team and the nation. | 206-464-2176

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